Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Business Education of Rick Wagoner

I haven’t decided if it is political pandering or authentic toughness, but either way I’m pretty happy about the ouster of the CEO at GM (Rick Wagoner). I don’t have anything against the guy personally, but when you are the one at the helm of a company when it goes belly up, you should be fired. That's what a business education is for...

CEOs get paid to lead a company through financial storms like the one we are in. They are paid to make sure there are reserves, diversification, and multiple back up plans. So when a giant like GM is hemorrhaging so much money that they have to borrow by the billions from the American taxpayer – you have failed. It’s a tough job, the pay is good, but the stakes are high.

Thanks for playing.

I guess the part that I am so happy about here is that finally someone who should be accountable is experiencing some consequences. It’s a bit ironic to me that when companies struggle, sometimes the people in charge are the only ones who have any sort of job security. This one is a point for the good guys.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see who is next, or if anyone will be next. Maybe this was just Obama’s way of “killing a hostage”. Maybe the other CEOs will begin to take their jobs more seriously. Maybe the union will realize that they are pricing themselves out of a market. Maybe we’ll all just grow up a little bit and realize this fake world that the baby boomers have built is coming crashing down around us and that Americans need to actually get back to a strong work ethic and a focus on real innovation if we want to retain our place in the world. I hope so… but for now, I am happy to see one guy get his business education the hard way.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Round 3: Returning to Business School

I woke up this morning and took a walk around the neighborhood I grew up in. As I was walking, I ran into a man down the street I used to do odd jobs for when I was a teenager. We talked briefly and then I made my way back up to my parent’s house and got my bags together. Off to the airport…

Now, I’m sitting on a plane somewhere over California and I just finished reading the first chapter for my upcoming marketing class. The vacation is over and its time to get back to work, to school, and to the gym. Vacations are never long enough – this one was 9 days.

In round three of business school I will be taking Managerial Accounting and Marketing Management. The Managerial Accounting course is being taught by a new professor who recently completed a PHd program at HBS (Harvard Business School). After last quarter’s stats class, my expectations aren’t too high, but I figure a guy from HBS has got to be good.

Our assignments due the first day of class are fairly light. There’s just a little bit of reading/skimming and a small assignment on profit margins. No big thing, but I know 1 week from now everything is going to be nuts again – hopefully not as nuts as last quarter though.

…my plane is making a short stop and then I will be on a direct flight to my final destination. I’m hoping to get a bit more reading done and then hit the gym and finish my opening assignment when I get home.

So, here we go again. Back to Business School.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

No Sign of a Recession in Anaheim

I have been on vacation in for the last 7 days and have taken full advantage of the time away from work and school. Yesterday was one of my favorite days because I went to Disneyland.
If you have been to Disneyland, you know that it is quite an escape from real life. We are talking about a place where all the plants are perfectly trimmed, the staff is always smiling, and music is always playing without a single speaker in sight.

Well, I couldn’t help but do a little math while I was there. With the average price of a ticket at about $70.00 plus three meals at approximately $15 each, Disneyland is about $200-$250 per couple. This doesn’t include snacks, souvenirs or kids. This would lead me to believe that the place should have been empty, right? Definitely not the case... From the huge line of cars waiting to park at $12.00 a head, to the 25 minute wait to buy tickets, to the 1 hour wait for Space Mountain, to the herd of people trying to buy over-priced cheeseburgers, the place showed every sign of being packed and not a single sign of an economic downturn.

What’s the explanation for this? I know it was just one day and that it may have been a fluke, but I don’t think it was. Let’s assume the attendance yesterday was within the normal range. Why are people still spending money at this alarming rate? Well, I can’t speak for them, but I did it to escape reality for a day and to have some fun with my family. Since I haven’t personally been affected by the recession I went ahead and went for it. I guess I’m doing my part to stimulate the economy. There are a lot of people employed at Disneyland. So, there it is… maybe a lot of this recession is hype, maybe not. Either way, Anaheim sure can’t tell.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Competition Evolves: The Best Part of Getting an MBA Degree

There was a book recently published by a student who attended HBS (Harvard Business School). In it, the author discussed what it was like as a student at HBS and what he thought the benefit was from going there and getting an MBA degree in general. One of the major advantages that he highlighted was a change in attitude of the students as they completed the program.
I’ve also noticed this change in myself and in others who are in my program. Here it is… you go from saying “they should do that” to “I should do that”. I would say that this what getting an MBA is all about. You gain the tools necessary (i.e. understanding of corporate finance, economics, marketing, accounting, statistics, etc.) to run a business and make intelligent business decisions. You gain experience leading people and being accountable for accurate data and quality work. You learn how massively important developing a professional network is. All of this adds up to an individual feeling confident enough to say, “Hey, I see an opportunity and I think I know some people who I can team up with to exploit it. Let’s do it.”

So where am I in terms of reaching this point in my B-School career? Well, based on a decision my competition team made… I’m there. Let me explain.

If you have been following my entries, you know that I have been preparing for a business plan competition based on a tidal energy solution that was cooked up by an engineering student at my school. Well, this last week, the team decided to scrap the competition and go through with the product in real life. Yes! A start up!

We have a bit of research and networking to do, but in about 3 months we will decide on a structure and look for funding. Lucky for us our product is clean tech, so there is actually money out there for it.

This experience is shaping up to be the best part of B School. There is no other place I can think of where I could find two engineers, an oceanographer, and an environmental science person who want to start a company with me. And the MBA degree has already changed me into the person that says, “Let’s do it.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Business School is on Hold: Vacation at Last

A voice just came over the loud speaker of the plane saying, “A second round of drink service will be starting shortly”. Those are the words I have been waiting an entire quarter of school to hear. Well, not really, but it means that I am finally on vacation!
This last quarter was a major time of growth for me. I decided to stop whining about my job, I tested the limits of my energy, and I successfully completed my first Business School Finance class. Let me explain.

Several months ago I began having a very hard time at work. Instead of pushing through this slump with a positive attitude and a general gratitude for employment during a very difficult economy, I sulked and became poisonous to my colleagues. It was common for me to rant and rave about how stupid my company was and how dumb our jobs were on a daily basis. One day in January while I was sitting in class it occurred to me. I thought, “If I am going to be a leader in Business I have to be able to make an impact at work under any circumstances. If I want to command a large salary when I leave, I need to gain valuable experience now and show some maturity”.

So I did. I began taking an interest in work again and even got to participate in a six-sigma evaluation of one of our departments. I have now set myself up for a possible promotion in the coming year if I survive the layoffs. I have also caught the attention of my colleagues and manager with the change in my attitude. I feel so much better…

While I was going through this change at work, I put in some extra hours. At the same time I was busy putting in multiple hour study sessions in Finance and gearing up for a business plan competition. The demands on my time and my brain taxed me to the core. The Finance class forced me to think harder than I probably ever have before. I felt like I was drowning in correlation, present value, and risk formulas. I was only getting about 5 hours a sleep a night from Tuesday to Friday each week and I was booked from 6AM to 11PM almost every day. If it weren’t for this vacation in the future, I think my wife may have left me.

But its over… and I emerged wiser and very tired. My plane lands in 54 minutes. When I walk off, I will have ten days where my biggest concern will be which restaurant to go out to for dinner. This is a well earned and much needed break. I think I might even read something… for fun.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Real Life Business Education: Flexible Labor Markets

Since I started B-School last year I have had a chance to step out of my career and even my company and industry to see economies and governments from the “3000’ view”. When you are looking at things from such a high altitude, you throw around macro-economic terms without thinking too much about what they mean at a, say, 6-foot level. This creates a strange dynamic between your work life, where you operate at street level, and your school life, which is mainly conducted from the inside of a space station. The irony of this dichotomy recently hit me when I was reading an article in the Economist called, “ the jobs crisis”.

The article was mainly about how different economies in the world were reacting to the global recession. It highlighted the fact that the United States has the highest unemployment rate of all the industrialized countries because of its “flexible labor markets”.

So what does that term really mean? Well, it means that it is easier for a company to fire (and I suppose one day hire) in the United States when compared to other developed nations. More plainly, the cost of lay-offs to the employer is lower in the US. From an employer’s perspective this is good. When the demand for their products or services goes through the floor, they can shed the cost of superfluous employees quickly.

Ironically, my employer has recently been taking advantage of their “flexible labor”. On Friday we learned that 30 of our colleagues at facilities on the East Coast were laid off. All of them are white-collar workers. It seems likely that I may be among the next group to prove the flexible nature of my company’s staff. I don’t recall signing up for this real-life business education.
It could be worse though. At least I have school and access to lots of Government loans. Who knows, maybe I’ll survive the “adjustment”. And, if I don’t, I will be glad for the flexibility of this country’s labor markets when I find the next gig.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Business School Didn't Turn My Ears Red

It's all over... no more assignments, no more presentations, no more group meetings, no more exams, no more evaluations, no more school... for 14 whole days.

Yes, the second quarter is over and I have two full weeks to recover. On Saturday my wife and I are headed out for a much deserved vacation and some quality time - something we haven't had in months!

But let me tell you about the last hurdle in this leg of the journey... the Finance final exam.

If you have been reading this blog, you know that most of my exams leave me with red ears and a headache. This has especially been the case in Finance and Economics. This time was different. I spent 4 hours studying practice exams two nights ago and went into this exam very well prepared.

The exam was proctored by the professors assistant because he was doing a program for a television station. The room was in our Executive center, so I got to take the test while sitting in a leather chair surrounded by mahogany tables. Definitely a highlight of business school so far...

I began the exam by spending 10 minutes on part A of the first question (there were 7 questions). However, at the end of the day I finished the exam with thirty minutes to spare and my ears were not red. I walked out of the exam room and headed straight to an MBA happy hour.

I stayed under my 2 drink maximum, but still had a fantastic time. We must have had about 50 students there drinking green beer and celebrating the end of a very rough quarter. We hung out for about two hours and then all began to go our separate ways.

Well, on with my well deserved vacation from business school. And I didn't even have to start it with red ears.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's Go Time

In the past 2 weeks I have taken a Stats Final, completed multiple assignments for all of my classes, written a 7 page term paper for Open Innovation, and completed a 6 page Executive Summary for the Environmental competition that I am in...

In 48 hours I will bring the 2nd quarter of Business school to a close with a final exam in Finance 502. I began the grueling march towards Tuesday yesterday with a 3 hour study session dedicated to past exams. Again, today I went to school for a 2 hour review session (it's Sunday). I will hit the books one last time tomorrow night with some study partners for a final round, and then its go time.

As I wrote before, I have really pushed my limits this quarter with the addition of a third class. That addition brought my credit total to 11, which is just shy of full time. All this while working extra hours. It is safe to say that I found my limits and left them in the dust... just ask my wife.

I cannot wait until the end of this week and for Spring Break to start. I have decided to take the week off of work as well to take in the full benefit of the time. My wife and I are headed to Santa Barbara for a few days for vacation and then on to visit some family in Ventura County, CA.

...but back to the work at hand. I will write again after the exam (and the happy hour).